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Asthma in Dogs (Allergic bronchitis)

Puppy german shepherd dog with bandage on a white background.

What is asthma?

Asthma in dogs is called allergic bronchitis.  This condition is usually the result of by an allergic reaction to something inhaled from the environment, causing the upper airway to spasm and constrict and the lungs (bronchi) to fill with mucous, making it hard to breath comfortably.

What are the symptoms of asthma in dogs?

Asthma is not that common in dogs, but it is important to be able to spot the symptoms, which may come and go and can range from mild to life-threatening. Symptoms to look out for are recurrent attacks of:-

  • Wheezing
  • Shortness of breath
  • Difficulty breathing (gasping or gulping for breath with an open mouth)
  • Coughing
  • Fatigue
  • Pale or blue gums (seek urgent medical help)

Difficulty breathing can be related to some other medical conditions, but in any event, it is important to get your pet looked at by your vet.

What are the causes of asthma in dogs?

Asthma in dogs is most often caused by an allergy to something which has been inhaled, such as pollen, grasses, smoke (cigarette, cigar and wood smoke), pollution, aerosols (hairspray, perfume, air fresheners) and chemicals from cleaning products.

What puts a dog at risk of developing asthma?

Chronic asthma is most common in older dogs, small breeds and those breeds with flat faces. Dogs exposed to cigarette and cigar smoke, wood smoke, floor and carpet cleaners, air fresheners and deodorisers are at an increased risk of developing allergic bronchitis.

Diagnosis

Your vet will require details of the symptoms your pet has shown and any surrounding circumstances that may have triggered the condition.  The vet will examine your pet and run tests to help rule out any other illness before they can clearly diagnose asthma as the cause.  This should include a chest x-ray and may include a transtracheal wash to retrieve a sample of the dog’s lower airway cells, or a bronchoscopy which involves using a camera to examine the lungs and take a sample of your pet’s lung tissue.

What treatment can be given?

Once asthma has been diagnosed, your vet may prescribe steroids, a canine asthma inhaler and advise on measures you can take to eliminate or minimise your pet’s exposure to the allergens which are triggering the condition. Often it is not possible to identify the allergen, so you may well be advised to minimise exposure to the most common triggers (cigarette and cigar smoke, wood smoke, floor and carpet cleaners, air fresheners and deodorisers) and things that can worsen their asthma, such as pollen, dust mites, black house mould and pollution.

How to prevent asthma

There are various steps you can take to reduce the chance of your dog developing asthma.  Don’t smoke near your pets.  Don’t use a wood burning stove or fireplace in your home. Use natural cleaners around your home such as white vinegar and don’t use aerosols. You could also replace your carpets, which often contain lots of chemicals from the manufacturing process, with a natural floor surface. Installing air purifiers in your home can also help by reducing air pollution levels and if you have cats who use a litter tray, use dust free litter.